Mike Thomas is taking Simon Cvijanovic’s accusations toward Tim Beckman and the Illinois football program very seriously. But according to Thomas, the picture being painted by Cvijanovic is vastly different than what Thomas has heard from Cvijanovic’s teammates.
Thomas, the Illinois athletics director, spoke to the media for about 25 minutes Monday afternoon in the wake of Cvijanovic's hours long series of tweets Sunday night and Monday alleging that Beckman abuses and bullies his players while mistreating and sometimes simply not caring about their injuries.
While Cvijanovic has cast Beckman as a name-calling bully who threatens to take players’ scholarships from them and fills their heads with propaganda, Thomas supported the head football coach during his teleconference, saying that players and parents of players have nothing but good things to say about Beckman.
[MORE BIG TEN: Ex-Illini OL Simon Cvijanovic blasts Tim Beckman on Twitter]
“What I would say as it relates to coach Beckman is that he’s really been personally attacked since this episode started,” Thomas said. “He’s put the welfare of this young man above everything else. The feedback I get from these players and these players’ families is that these coaches genuinely care for them and treat them like their own children.
“We do exit interview with our student athletes, and the feedback from our student-athlete exit interviews doesn’t correspond from what we’re hearing from Simon.
“The feedback we get on our exit interviews for those kids who exhaust their eligibility, from the families of the kids that have played here, their parents, the kids themselves, I think they talk a lot about the family atmosphere with the program. I think they talk about the culture. I think they talk about the caring of our coaches, not just coach Beckman but of our staff as it relates to their well being. I’ve never had an indication of anything different form that as it relates to student athletes and their family, including their parents.”
Cvijanovic, the former Illini offensive lineman who left the team in the middle of last season, accused Beckman, his coaching staff and the program’s medical staff of lying to him about surgical procedures, forcing him to play while injured, telling him to stop taking medication and vilifying players who were injured.
[MORE BIG TEN: In report, ex-Illini Cvijanovic details Beckman accusations]
Monday, Thomas refused to focus on Cvijanovic’s specific case or any specific case and instead painted with a broad brush while talking about the integrity of the athletics department’s medical staff.
“We’ve reviewed all medical policies and feel confident we are following the proper communication protocols,” Thomas said. “Our medical staff fully documents all interactions with our student athletes. We feel very confident in the way our medical staff handles their business. And our student-athlete well being and their safety is absolutely our No. 1 concern.”
Thomas spoke about Cvijanovic, describing him as a “good kid” who always treated him personally with respect. He called Cvijanovic’s tweets surprising, and though he refused to get into specifics about how the department would investigate the matter — saying only that he would “follow up” — he indicated that he would be looking into the allegations in some fashion, saying his department was receiving assistance from the chancellor’s office.
“There’s no doubt, very serious,” Thomas said of the accusations. “I think any time that there’s allegations made as it relates to the — once again going back to the safety, health and well being of our student athletes, I think is something that we need to pay attention to, absolutely. And in saying that, I’m very confident in the professionals who are on the front lines dealing with our student athletes.”
Through it all, though, Thomas continued to maintain that Beckman is viewed in a very positive light by his players and players’ families, commending Beckman for how he’s handled the situation thus far. The only communication from the head football coach to the media was a statement released Sunday night clarifying how Cvijanovic departed from the team.
“I think he’s dealt with it with grace,” Thomas said of Beckman. “My conversations with Tim since this came out yesterday afternoon, I think his focus was still on the kid. We talked about the fact that he’s still in school and he needs to get a University of Illinois degree, but that’s really where his focus was, on the well being of that particular student athlete.”